Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sprouting acorns—who knew?

I’ve been stalling on this post for quite a while, wanting to give it special attention, because I was so struck by these. Couldn’t decide which images to use, in what order--real hand-wringing!

I was wandering around in the woods as usual, in mid-April, looking for things (mushrooms, if possible), and I noticed all these RED things on the ground, deep red spots all over the place. At first I just thought it was some leftover pieces of acorns, I don’t know, changing colors like a piece of fading fruit, until I got my face down closer, and found yet another whole new thing going on.

These look innocent enough, except for that startling red

  Opening acorn      Sprouting acorns-8

                Sprouting acorns-35
I don’t know what I thought about how acorns sprouted in the woods, but it certainly wasn’t this! I guess I thought a bunch of nice pale brown acorns fell, most were eaten, and a few sprouted like any other run-of-the-mill seed. What surprised me were the colors (many), and the shapes (as usual). Also, there were a lot of them. Every several inches there was another one! I took precisely one million pictures, then kicked myself later (only a little) for not taking more, and for not spending just a little more time getting better shots…tricky to get everything in focus with shoots up there and acorn down there…       

Sprouting acorns-23

I wonder what those tiny white spots are (above). Nice touch!

Then I started to run into stuff like this:
Sprouting acorns-46

Okay, here is when I began to realize things were getting a little out of hand. Which is the shoot and where is the root, and what are those sea-slug-like-like ruffles? And everything’s all tangled up and wild colors!

wavy cotyledon

The wiggly red things are not the first leaves! They’re connected to the cotyledons. The shoot with the first true leaves is between the two flat wiggly things.

Why is everything red?

Sprouting acorns-36

I actually had to stop and look at this for a while. If that’s the leaf/shoot sticking straight up, then what’s all that other stuff? I had to discuss it with a friend, who helped me untangle the structure.

Sprouting acorns-49

This one (above) is waving one cotyledon in the air.

As near as I can figure, with acorns (at least this model) everything happens at once. Maybe since it’s got so much food available from the big fat nut meat (and it needs to move fast before someone eats it), it puts out a root and shoot with true leaves at the same time, ready to go, all the while taking sustenance from the big acorn nut (the cotyledon, which is like a placenta, really), so it’s all just *blam!*, get everything going all at once! It’s pretty much like any other seed sprouting, but the cotyledons are extra large, and they seem to not have to leave the shell for everything to work out.

The term “cotyledon” was coined by 17th-century physician Marcello Malphigi (“bad piggy”).

But, the operating words here are “as near as I can figure.” I don’t know any acorn experts yet.

A few more:

Sprouting acorns-52

See, the shoot is already up, and those red arms are attached to the cotyledons, still in the shell.


Sprouting acorns-53

Take that, Georgia O’Keeffe! Kids, go ask your parents what that means.

So you walk around thinking you have a basic idea of what’s going on out there, until you look closer. Well, good luck with that! Look where that got me.